There are but a few things that can put a damper on any summer cruise in your favorite muscle car, namely unbearable heat and humidity while on the drive. Not that we don't possess the same toughness as veteran owners did, but in today's aftermarket there is no need to endure summer's sweltering worst. An incredible selection of climate control products is available to keep us comfortable.
This month we checked out Classic Auto Air's (CAA) universal air and heating systems as well as its Perfect Fit Series for most Chevy applications. These units come with everything needed to improve heating over the factory system, including multiple fan speed controls and the addition of ice-cold air conditioning. You can further customize your particular installation, as we did, by simply calling CAA directly.
Without a doubt, Chevy High Performance readers are techno-savvy individuals, and since we provide monthly Step By Step installments, these pages will be spent on evaluating the CAA system and providing additional tips and tricks we performed as well. Our installation is in a '64 Chevelle convertible along with the provided Sanden compressor and beltdrive system from Concept One and an Edelbrock hi-flow water pump, which was covered in a previous Step by Step piece (Nov. '06). Rather than rehashing the same details here, we'll focus on the ease and fitment that the Perfect Fit Series provides in most typical installations.
What We Did
Added air conditioning to improve the creature comforts of a drop-top Chevelle.
The results were well worth the effort!
Complete system, $1,245 (Classic Auto Air PN 20-239) plus recharge service and freon.
How the Heck Does It Work?
Having always been fascinated by how things function, before starting the installation we did a little extra credit investigation to learn how an air conditioning system works. For the most part, an automotive A/C system is split into high- and low-pressure sections.
The cycle begins when the compressor at high pressure pushes refrigerant in superheated gas form into the condenser. Fresh air absorbs the heat of the gas as air passes through the fins. As the refrigerant cools, it condenses and turns into a subcooled high-pressure liquid. The liquid then flows through the drier, which filters out impurities and separates pure liquid from gases. This subcooled, high-pressure liquid then travels to the expansion valve, where it is metered into droplets and delivered to the evaporator found inside the car. The refrigerant cools down as it moves through the unit and as fans blow warm interior air over the fins. Heat is sucked out of the air and absorbed by the refrigerant. As the air temperature drops, the air cannot hold the same level of moisture, and this moisture collects onto the fins, eventually running out through the drain. While the low-pressure gas travels back to the compressor, the cooled air from the evaporator is pushed by the fan through the vents to the occupants inside the car.
There you have it. Pretty cool, huh?
As with any installation on your project, always start with the instruction sheets. In this case it is a 21-page package that commands your attention. The Custom Auto Air folks spent quite a bit of time preparing these instructions. They're written well and include several photos. You'll also find two cutting templates to guide installers though each step. A good idea is to separate the parts into groups for the underhood and interior stages. This makes selection easier later.
Tips & Tricks
While we didn't get overly creative with our installation, we did make two minor changes to our system. First, we changed the main interior vent to one that would attach as a single unit across the bottom of the dash. With the help of their sales folks, a unit from an early Barracuda kit (sorry, Chevy faithful) matched our need. It measured perfectly from the end of the console to the vent pull-handle at the far right, giving it a factory look. We also shot a quick coat of semigloss on all the black interior parts to give them a finish that matched the rest of the interior.
Next, we wanted to keep the firewall as clean as possible. We lengthened the supplied high- and low-pressure lines before crimping them. This was done to allow routing of the lines behind the fender and to keep it hidden before reaching the engine. The same was done with new (suggested) heater hoses. We also picked up a $6.99 water pump bypass hose, which featured two 90-degree bends, and two heater hose splice connectors for $3.99 each. These 90s were mounted to the power unit and then to the heater hoses, and we gave the hose a tight turn that would not restrict water flow. Better yet, this keeps everything against the firewall and out of the way.
Following the process and steps outlined in the instruction sheet, this installation isn't difficult. Every component fit where it was supposed to, such as the provided drier hard lines, which line up perfectly. The power unit snuggles up nicely under the dash, limiting its invasion of passenger footwell space. The supplied wiring is generous enough so that you can easily extend them to make connections onto the factory harness. Even the adjustments to the factory controls to connect the multispeed fan switch are simplified with a provided template.
The only outside tool you'll need is an A/C hose crimping tool. Also, we strongly urge everyone to go ahead and purchase a new heater hose. While you're at it, it's also a great time to drain and refill the cooling system. Finally, be sure to give yourself ample time for the installation. This isn't an afternoon project, and a modest level of wrenching expertise is required. Nevertheless, we have no doubt that this is an installation anyone can handle.
Do it! There is no need to swelter in summer's worst any longer as you cruise in your street machine. While we didn't strap our 'Velle onto a chassis dyno to check for any power loss, we're proud to say that any loss would be minimal. With our unit on full-tilt skin-numbing mode, our 383 small-block will easily break the tire loose on command and get sideways in a hurry. Now that is undoubtedly cool!